This week's news from Huntsman Cancer Institute is on research just published by HCI researchers into endometrial cancer.
The endometrium is the lining on the inside of the female uterus. Endometrial cancer is the most common cancer affecting the female reproductive system and, although most cancers are growing ever more treatable, endometrial cancer is increasing in both rates of diagnosis and death. About 60,000 new cases are diagnosed in the U.S. each year. The cancer is also beginning to affect women earlier than it used to--younger and younger women are being diagnosed with it.
In normal cell growth in the endometrium, two chemicals--estrogen and glucocorticoids--play opposing roles. Estrogen makes the endometrium grow, and glucocorticoids make it stop growing.
Estrogen is a sex hormone and glucocorticoids are stress hormones. Both are naturally found in the both, although amounts vary between people and over time.
When the researchers looked at mice with endometrial cancer, they found that glucocorticoids made the mice's tumors stop growing, as they expected. But when estrogen was added to the mix, the two chemicals began to work together to make tumors grow quickly and far more aggressively than before. The researchers had expected to see slow, less aggressive growth.
They saw the same results in lab cultures, genomic analysis, and in statistical analysis of data from cancer databases. They narrowed the cause down to a gene that researchers didn't previously know was implicated in endometrial cancer.
This project took two years, and the researchers are already throwing themselves into the next question inspired by what they've learned: how are estrogen and glucocorticoids triggered to work together in cancer rather than opposing each other as usual, and what might that mean for cancer patients?